Tech policy-makers meet to seek common ground on digital future

ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Romania will elect next management team for UN system agency and chart path for global digital transformation.

The highest decision-making body of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) opened today with delegates from around the world pursuing digital cooperation and transformation for the good of all.

ITU’s 21st Plenipotentiary Conference, known as “PP-22″, features elections for the organization’s top management posts – Secretary-General, Deputy Secretary-General, and Directors for Radiocommunication, Telecommunication Standardization, and Telecommunication Development – along with the 12-seat Radio Regulations Board and 48-seat ITU Council.

Digital networks and technologies have empowered billions of people worldwide, facilitating business, education, government services, trade, and social interactions through the toughest phases of COVID-19. Yet Internet uptake has slowed over the past year, leaving 2.7 billion people – or one-third of the world’s population – unconnected.

“We are in the middle of a digital revolution that enables and provides the means for the development of new industries and converged services, such as smart vehicles, healthcare, smart cities, and homes,” said Romania’s Vice Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu in his opening speech to PP-22.

“At this turning point in technological development, we must not forget our essential duty to respect the human being,” he added, stressing the need “to protect the freedom and prosperity of future generations, in whose lives the technologies we see today as emerging will play a determining role.”

ITU is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communications technologies (ICTs). As the conference opened Monday morning in the Romanian capital, ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao said efforts must be expanded to make technology accessible and affordable to everyone, everywhere.

“Equitable access to ICTs is not just a moral responsibility, it is essential for global prosperity and sustainability,” said Zhao, who has led the organization for the past eight years. “The decisions made here in Bucharest will determine our direction and priorities in line with the evolving needs of ITU’s diverse and growing global membership, helping shape the future of the information society in both developed and developing countries.”

Shaping global digital growth

Delegates at the quadrennial conference include government ministers and officials, representatives from national, regional, and international bodies, academic institutions, and the private sector –companies dealing with telecommunications and the Internet – reflecting an aspect of ITU’s membership mix that is unique in the UN system.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted “the opportunity to form common positions that will shape global digital transformation for years to come” and urged delegates to “seize the opportunities of digital technology while protecting against its risks.”

In a pre-recorded video message, he called on the high-level audience from government and industry “to put humanity’s progress at the centre of your discussions” over the next three weeks.

How the conference works

The Plenipotentiary Conference, held every four years, enables nations and governments to reach coordinated decisions on the advancement of vital technologies. PP-22 provides a crucial forum for governments spanning every world region to build consensus on the radio and satellite harmonization, telecom standardization, and digital development.

The election for ITU’s next secretary-general is set to open during the morning of Thursday, 29 September. Elections for ITU’s senior management team will follow.

After all elections are concluded, an expected 2,500 delegates from ITU’s 193 Member States will decide on the organization’s strategic and financial plans, as well as set out its roadmap for connecting the world over the coming four-year period.

“In a world increasingly dependent on technology, ITU’s Plenipotentiary Conference is an opportunity to address crucial topics that will shape our digital future for generations to come,” said Sabin Sărmaș, PP-22 Chair-designate and head of Romania’s parliamentary Information Technology and Communications Commission. “Our primary goal – to improve people’s lives – can only be achieved by adopting a shared policy blueprint reflecting green, gender, and youth inclusion priorities. This is what I, along with the Government of Romania, will stand for during PP-22.”

PP-22 takes place between 26 September and 14 October at Bucharest’s Palace of Parliament.

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